When I think about it rationally, there are so many benefits of being single.
But all rational thought is chucked out the window when the jarring loneliness of singleness sets in.
It’s funny, how empty you can feel when these moments wash over you. All the benefits of singleness cannot seem to match what your friends who are married/attached have.
Loneliness is not a feeling only singles experience. Ben Stuart, who preaches at Passion City Church Washington DC, mentioned that the loneliness of singlehood is nothing compared to the loneliness of lying in the same bed next to someone with whom you cannot share your deepest thoughts with.
But I can only speak from the experience on this side of life, though maybe some of it could be potentially helpful for the married person who feels lonely in his/her marriage.
Loneliness is a powerful feeling. It can drive us to our knees in tears. It can, in some, cause them to throw themselves into any relationship they can find in order to escape the chasm they feel. It can, on the other extreme, drive people into isolation. The familiar embrace of loneliness creates greater inertia in connecting with people.
It’s hard to explain the feeling of being lonely, or to know when the loneliness would appear. Sometimes it could be cyclical (girls, amiright?), sometimes it could be circumstantial (like being the only single person at a table full of couples discussing wedding plans/house renovation). Sometimes it could be a spiritual attack.
In the week leading up to our first women’s bible study, I was overwhelmed by an inexplicable loneliness. I was not alone, but I felt it. So empty, so useless.
The thing with loneliness is not just the strong feelings, but the assault it wages against my identity.
Loneliness, coupled with the confusion of singleness, can often lead me to make irrational rationalisation of why I am alone/single. It’s a really odd thing, because on days that I’m feeling alright, these thoughts seem so unnatural and untrue.
Certain lies you’ve been told/told yourself over the years in order to rationalise situations, even after countless encounters of healing & deliverance, would resurface with more power than ever. At least it feels that way.
Some recurring lies for me are: “I’m too fat”, “I’m too strong-willed”, “I’m too different”, “I’m too opinionated”, “I’m too big” or “I’m too ugly”. Words I’ve heard from people, well-meaning or not, over years formed strongholds that years of ministry and pursuing God has torn and still is tearing down.
In my last month, at a church conference, the word came up again about being an influence, people being drawn to me. And in the same breath the prophet told me I didn’t love myself.
“Ahh, again. do I not? ” I thought to myself. But she repeated it a number of times, and the Holy Spirit worked in my heart, pointing out this jarring reality that I had been living with. Again, He had to show me that I am beautiful and that He loves me. After this encounter, it was like the stronghold of self-despisal was completely ripped apart. I felt confident, not with an arrogance, but a complete ease at being myself.
And yet in this last week, the assault of lies came again through the darkness of loneliness. It was difficult to stay firm in my identity in God, When the feeling of loneliness overtakes me, there is a tendency to look in at myself. I became overly pensive about my own behaviours, my looks, my friendships, my singleness.
‘I’ve been here before’, I said to myself, spirit unwilling to be swept away in the familiar melancholy of loneliness. It was so tempting, to wallow in my self-pity, to reopen the can of self-criticism, to let the ugly thoughts overflow again.
The despair of loneliness is a lonely fortress. It is a city, fortified by walls of lies, built on false foundations of self-esteem and self-belief, guarded by the soldiers of deception, with a citizen of one: myself.
All the ministry and redemption has moved me out of this stronghold, and out into the freedom of the plains & mountains. In moments of loneliness, I find myself at the gates drawn wide, the call of despair luring me back into its stronghold, back to my fortress.
Yet, I can stand at the gate and choose to turn away. I’m no longer held captive by loneliness. I have been set free, plucked from its darkness, feet now firmly rooted on the Cornerstone, Christ alone. I can say to the deceptive gatekeepers, ‘No, I’m not going in there again’.
He, my Creator, tells me exactly who I am. Fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), precious and honoured in God’s sight (Isaiah 43), loved (erm, the whole bible).
In this last week of praying and reading my bible, God spoke to me through two stories.
Hagar was a servant of Sarai and Abram. She was a single woman without a family of her own and a foreigner. Because Sarah remained barren, the couple decided that Abram would sleep with Hagar in order that she might bear an heir for Abram. The bible does not tell us Hagar’s thoughts on the matter but perhaps she might have felt manipulated, or maybe it was opportunity she could be redeemed from her position of servant as child-bearer of Abram.
When she became pregnant, she grew in disdain of Sarai, who now regret her choice and found ways to get rid of Hagar. Sarai treated her harshly to the point that Hagar, a foreigner in the wilderness, now a single mom, ‘flees’ from her.
How lonely she must have felt.
Her dreams of being redeemed crashed. She has to carry the pain of being mistreated, and now the fear of a future uncertain of her child would be born safely, or if she could even raise him well. There was no one who understands her.
Until, “The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.” (Genesis 16:7) I love that God pursued her, and found her. And even though God knew that Abram’s line would be continued by Isaac (who is born four chapters later), He named Ishmael, and gave Hagar promises that her son will prosper.
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi*; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
*Beer Lahai Roi means well of the Living One who sees me.
What mercy! What grace! I’m so blown away by this encounter with God. Hagar called upon a new name of the Lord, El Roi. A non-Jewish servant woman, receives a completely new revelation of the Lord. In her loneliness, God pursued her, and showed her that He is a God who sees her.
God sees us in our loneliness. He is El Roi, the God who sees me. What a comforting reminded that we are never really alone. I pray today that in moments of loneliness that you would call upon the name of the Lord, El Roi, and receive the comfort He gives, the reminders of His promises over your life.
There’s another well in the bible where God meets with a broken woman. She too, was single, (“I have no husband,” she replied. – John 4:17) and struggled with multiple broken romantic relationships (Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” – John 4:17-8).
Women of the village would often gather in the mornings to draw water from the well because it was cooler (if you’ve ever been in noonday heat in Israel the sun literally burns through your skin). But this woman, goes to the well at noon, alone.
Her loneliness, if I were to infer, would also be evident in the fact that she had multiple husbands and was in a non-committal relationship with another. Bearing in mind how unusual such a situation would be at that time, it probably explains why she was also not with the other women drawing water from the well.
But on this particular day, a different man waited by the well for her. This Jewish man, ignoring all social rules, spoke to the Samaritan woman and ‘told [her] everything [she] ever did’ (v 29).
What struck me was that Jesus knew her. He knew she would be at the well, so He waited there. He knew her broken relationships, her loneliness. He knew what she needed the most was living water from the Messiah.
Her encounter with Jesus was so profound that she immediately ran off and exclaimed to the entire village about the Messiah. Where she was lonely and an outcast before, many received hope because of her. Jesus stayed to teach, and so many became believers because of this woman’s testimony.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4: 13-4
Jesus waits at the well of your heart of loneliness. He knows us deeply, and He offers us a living water of satisfaction that marriage would never give. He would make us into the very spring of this living water that would bring life. Come to Jesus in your loneliness, and drink from this water.
What does it mean to drink? I’m still figuring this out, but one thing He spoke to me about was that I hadn’t been intentionally spending time with Him, really listening and seeking Him. I wasn’t pouring out my feelings or conversing with Him. So maybe drinking from the living water means coming to Jesus and soaking in His presence, enjoying the times of refreshing with Him. Letting His truths sink in so that the lies of loneliness can be pushed out!
Jesus knows deep loneliness. He lived it. I’ll write another post on this to look at His life of loneliness, but I think the beauty of this life walking with Christ is that He is not only a God who sees us, a God who knows us, He is a God who empathises with us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
I pray that if you find yourself struggling with loneliness, whether in a season of singleness or not, it’ll be a season of knowing God deeply. He is with you, and He is pursuing you. Let Him tear down the fortress of loneliness & guardedness. I pray that when you step out beyond those walls you will taste the joys of community and see the beauty of life He has created.
Most importantly, my prayer for you is that you will grow deeply anchored in the promise that your God walks beside you, behind you, in front of you. You are hemmed in on all sides with His love and grace. Step out of the fortress of despair, and step into the paradoxical castle of the King, secure & safe but so completely free.
author’s note: this one was a particularly difficult one to write. It felt too close for comfort, the battles with loneliness still being waged. But I sincerely pray that it encourages you. I would love to hear your reflections on the two bible stories, or if you’d like, your thoughts on loneliness. DM me at @joyinthedust or contact me here.